WHEN Hunter-raised mental health advocate Joel Pilgrim shared with Prince Harry an easy way to boost wellbeing, he wasn’t expecting the tactile response.
“I said, ‘The best way to talk about mental health is by hugging it out,” Mr Pilgrim said.
“He said ‘Absolutely’ and it was a long embrace, it lasted about five seconds.
“He’s a bloody good hugger! It was a nice solid embrace. He’s a genuinely good guy.”
Mr Pilgrim, who studied occupational therapy at the University of Newcastle, embraced both Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on Bondi Beach on Friday.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex were meeting with about 40 people affiliated with One Wave, which holds weekly Fluro Friday sessions at beaches around the world to raise awareness for mental health.
Participants dress up in bright colours to “bring mental health from the invisible to visible” and either surf, swim or do yoga together.
Mr Pilgrim is One Wave’s former mental health manager and has since started his own complementary charity, Waves of Wellness.
“It was so special to have Harry and Meghan down on the beach,” Mr Pilgrim said.
“They’re just like any other people, so the conversations were so real and so normal.
“They were saying how mental health is something close to their hearts, that they’re passionate about supporting it and they’re stoked we share that passion with them.
“Harry said ‘We’ve all been through ups and downs and it’s so important to have conversations and normalise it’ and Meghan actually said ‘We’ve seen what you guys have been doing for so long and we really wanted to be here – we had a say in this’.
“We were chatting about how it’s really important to come together and if something’s not okay, talk about it.”
Mr Pilgrim said the organisation had been discussing with Kensington Palace for a few months the logistics of staging the visit.
The Royal couple kicked off their shoes, were given floral leis and joined an “anti-bad vibe circle”.
Their 30 minute visit also included speaking to a surfing group and a yoga group.
“We struggled to get them off the sand, but we weren’t allowed to go into the surf and give them some surf therapy,” Mr Pilgrim said.
“They were just having a relaxed yarn with everyone.”
Mr Pilgrim was standing next to Fluro Friday participant Sienna Studholme, 12, when she presented the couple with a surfboard the 40 attendees had signed.
“Meghan shook my hand and I said ‘At Fluro Fridays we don’t shake hands, we hug’,” he said.
“She said ‘Alright’ and put her arms out.”
Mr Pilgrim said one quarter of the population experience challenges with mental health sometime in their life, and the Royals shining a spotlight on One Wave would “spread the message of hope and that it’s okay to talk about it if things are not going so well”.
“Mental health awareness will go so far with these guys’ support,” he said.
“This shows regardless of class and social status, these issues can impact everyone.
“It’s a pretty powerful way to communicate the message that it’s okay to not be okay.
“They’re playing a role in reducing the stigma.”
Mr Pilgrim will return to the Hunter next weekend for a mental health event, The Elephant in the Castle Gala.